Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Lady

8 December A.D. 2010

    “I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made.
The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived....”[1]

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and English
Immaculate Conception of the BVM
In Conceptione Immaculata - December 8

    In this Mass of our Lady's Immaculate Conception, the Church has us read from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, accommodating the book's lovely description of wisdom to the Blessed Virgin.  Such “accommodation” is perfectly reasonable for God who is all-knowing and unchangeable, would have known from the very first instant of creation that He would send His Son into the world to redeem the man and woman we know as Adam and Eve from their foreseen fall from grace.  Moreover, God knew that His Son would be born to a perfectly obedient woman, whom He would create in the state of grace as He had created the woman Eve—the important distinction being that Mary, the second Eve, would retain that grace forever.  Mary would be the perfect cooperator in the redemptive work of her Son, the second Adam—perfect from the moment of her conception in the mind of God—perfect too from the moment of her conception in the womb of Saint Anne, her mother—perfect throughout a difficult life, after which her perfectly sinless body and soul were taken up to heaven, much as our Lord ascended those forty days after His Resurrection.  Mary was what the Greeks call “pan-agios” or “all holy.”

    Mary was the one whom God promised to put at enmity with the Devil, saying in the Garden of Eden to the serpent: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”[2]  Here again, we see that God had planned the Immaculate Conception of Mary from the earliest days of creation.

    Yesterday, in the Vigil Mass of this feast, we read Saint Matthew's genealogy, which traced the family of Jesus back to Abraham.[3]  I say it traced “the family,” in that it traced the lineage of Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, by that relationship establishing that Jesus was legally a descendant of Abraham and King David as promised in the Old Testament Scriptures.

    A few of the women in Joseph's genealogy—Thamar, Rahab, and Bethsabee, for example—were less than holy people.  Scripture commentators often point this out to emphasize the need for our Redeemer,  for this human nature that He would inherit from His Immaculate Mother was capable of being very flawed indeed.  Of course,  the genealogy was only Jesus and Mary's by presumption of law, and not by biological descent.

    By tradition, we know that Mary's parents were holy people of the priestly tribe, Joachim and Anne, by name, and that Mary's conception was the result of many years of prayer by parents thought to be too old to bear children.  Her priestly origin is not recorded in the Scriptures, but is corroborated in Saint Like's Gospel, where we learn that Mary was the cousin of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, wife of the priest Zachary and a daughter of the priestly tribe of Levi.[4]  It is a pious belief that John was delivered from original sin when Mary came to visit Elizabeth: “For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”[5]

    The definition of the Immaculate Conception as an object of our Catholic Faith came only a relatively short time ago, on this day in 1854 when Pope Pius IX issued the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus.  But history demonstrates that a feast was observed in the Church from the early centuries.  As early as the 5th century in Syria, the Church  celebrated a feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God on December 9th.  The feast spread to other places in the West, and was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Sixtus IV in 1476, and made a holy day of obligation by Pope Clement XI in 1708.  The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was championed by the Franciscans, and supported by a decree of  Pope Sixtus IV.[6]  Pope Innocent VIII authorized the invocation of Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception circa 1490.  In its definition of original sin, the Council of Trent was careful to point out that it did not apply to the Blessed Virgin.[7]  Pope Pius V condemned the proposition that that “Mary died because she had original sin” and placed the feast of the Immaculate Conception in his revised Breviary.[8]  Pope Paul V prohibited teaching anything contrary to the doctrine in public and Gregory XV prohibited it even in private.  Alexander VII renewed the decrees of the Popes on the doctrine in 1661.[9]

    One even finds allusions to the Immaculate Conception in Mohammad's Quran, which borrowed heavily from Jewish and Christian sources.[10]

    In private revelation we have Mary herself approving of the doctrine, to Saint Catherine Labouré in 1830, giving her the design for the Miraculous Medal of the Immaculate Conception, some twenty-four years prior to the definition of Pius IX.  (I hope that everyone here wears that medal of the Immaculate Conception.)  And our Lady was quoted by Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, saying “I am the Immaculate Conception” but four years thereafter.  And in the next century, at Fatima, our Lady urged devotion to her Immaculate Heart.

    Now, I would be remiss were I to omit an exhortation for all of us on this great feast.  All of us, it is true, were born in the state of original sin—each of us lacked the graces that Mary always possessed.  But in Baptism our soul acquired sanctifying grace, making us rather “Mary-like.”  And even if we have not preserved our baptismal innocence, sacramental Confession will restore that grace and our similarity to Mary.  The only question is “Where do we go from there?”

    Understand that Mary had free will, and even though it seems unthinkable, she could have sinned, just as Eve did, and just as we do.  The reality is that Mary freely chose not to sin.  Throughout her life she freely conformed her will to the will of God.

    What I am suggesting is that—under the patronage of our Immaculate Mother—we choose to do the same thing—that every time we are conscious of temptation to sin, we call on Mary to help us follow her Son's divine will.  “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”


[1]  Proverbs viii: 22-35.

[5]  Ibid. verse 44.

[6]  Constitution Grave nimis, 4 September 1483, Dz. 735

[7]  Denzinger 376  Trent “On Original Sin,” last paragraph

[8]  Condemnation of Errors of Michael de Bay, 1567  Denzinger 1073.

[9]  Alexander VII, “Solicitudo omnium eccl,” 8 December 1661.  Denzinger 1100

[10]  Giancarlo Finazzo “The Virgin Mary in the Koran.”


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